Foster care was designed to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children whose parents have been deemed unfit or incapable of caring for them because of criminal behavior, domestic abuse or drug use. Some of these parents are themselves victims of domestic abuse at the hands of their partners or are seeking treatment for drug abuse so that they can regain custody of their children and have their parental rights restored. Unfortunately, too many children are abused in foster care by the very custodians entrusted to protect and care for them.
Foster Care Abuse Is Not Uncommon
Being the most populous state, California has more than 45,000 children entering foster care each year with about 60,000 in foster care at any one time, the most of any state. About 19% of children placed in foster homes are reportedly abused. In fact, few states meet the nationally set standard of 99.68% set by the Child and Family Services Review from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCAR).
Allegations of abuse are supposed to be documented and investigated by the county’s Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). However, there have been allegations made by parents that agency employees are overwhelmed or do not take the time to adequately investigate complaints. Also, foster parents have been allowed to care for children despite their own records of abuse or mistreatment of other foster children or of their own biological children. For example, Boston’s DCFS has a policy that does not disqualify individuals from becoming foster parents despite criminal records that can include sex offenses and armed assault. Despite assurances from Boston DCFS representatives that few waivers are granted for such individuals, they could not produce records of how many had been approved. A news report following this disclosure did state that there were 650 cases of foster parents with criminal records, who were permitted to take children into their homes in a one-year period between 2013 and 2014.
One of the more troubled child care protection systems is the Los Angeles DCFS where horrific cases of children dying from malnutrition and severe beatings have been reported and documented. In one case, a foster parent who had seven child abuse and neglect complaints filed against her regarding her own children was given a waiver by a private placement agency to foster and adopt children, although it was against the state code. The foster parent was also living with a convicted felon. She was approved by the DCFS to adopt a 2-year-old infant. Not long after, the mother called 911 to report she mistakenly struck the child with a hammer in trying to free her from a bed frame. The child died, and the autopsy indicated that her fatal injuries were caused by a belt beating sustained the day before the 911 call was made.
Incidents like these are unacceptable and should never occur. With proper documentation of complaints and more thorough investigations and perhaps changes in agency policies, complaints of abuse like these could be minimized.
Finding Liability for Foster Care Abuse
California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) requires certain people to report suspected child abuse. These include physicians, teachers, guardians, and administrators at day care, peace officers and social workers. Anyone who reports a suspicion may do so anonymously. A person who is mandated to report abuse and does not do so may be subject to fines, jail and even civil suits for damages, including medical expenses, permanent disability, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.
Abused children may file suit under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 if the foster placement was done at the local or county level, as is done in California. The standard for suing an agency is that it must have exhibited a “deliberate indifference” to the risk of harm to the foster child under Doe vs. NYC Department of Social Services, 649 F.2nd 134. There must also be a substantive link between the agency’s action, or omission to act, and the abuse that occurred. If the agency failed to investigate allegations or ignored obvious signs of abuse, or allowed a child to be placed with a parent with a record of abuse allegations, then that link might be substantiated. Agencies and departments can also be held liable under negligence principles for violating their standard of care in not properly screening foster parents or failing to adequately investigate accusations.
Consult Foster Care Abuse Attorney Andrew Ritholz
Foster abuse is a tragic situation for the abused child who has suffered at the hands of those who were legally bound to provide a safe and healthy environment. Holding those accountable for their actions or omissions can be difficult and the legal issues complex. Andrew Ritholz of Pasadena is a highly experienced and dedicated attorney who has successfully fought for the right to compensation for mothers and children abused in foster homes. Call his office today for a free evaluation of your foster care abuse claim.